25 years ago, walking to an Ocean City, NJ beach with my three-year-old daughter, I sang at each street corner. "Stop, look and listen, before you cross the street. Use your eyes, use your ears, and then you use your feet!"

Approaching a person with dementia is significantly different than greeting a friend or family member. It is important for you to know that their brain is changing. They are confused or anxious. They may not remember you, that you were coming, or why you are there. To ensure that your appearance does not startle a person with dementia or put them "on edge", try the following, which is very similar to that little song: 



Always approach directly from the front. Many seniors have poor vision and have lost their peripheral vision. Coming close to them or speaking to them from their side or from behind will disorient them.



The comfort zone for most Americans is six feet. This distance can vary by culture! In the US, a distance less than this 6 feet creates a stranger/danger response. Stopping will alert them to your presence.


Waving might be considered a universal motion of acknowledgement. A hand motion will direct their attention to you and is a second indication that you are approaching.


Establish eye contact from this distance and smile, invitingly. It is vital that they actually see you and that their attention is focused on you.


Call their name. Our names are the first words we learn. Even though our elders begin to lose short term memory and regress, we all know our names. Calling their names immediately establishes that we know them and they must know us. This connection is what we are looking for.


Approach slowly and extend your right hand to shake hands. Shaking hands is something Americans do throughout our lives to demonstrate friendship.

Once you have each other's hands, true communication, on a positive note, can begin.

Last updated: Mon 04 November 2013 12:54
Created: Mon 04 November 2013 11:43
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